For consumers, state video franchising is backfiring

Tue, 07/08/2008 - 8:20am
Brian Santo

The initial result of state franchising is that the advertised public benefit – lower monthly fees – has yet to materialize. Furthermore, support for public, education and government (PEG) access is being seriously compromised.

The results were compiled from a survey of 140 PEG access TV centers in 18 states that have thus far adopted state franchise laws. The survey was commissioned by the Alliance for Community Media (ACM), which anticipates that the situation for PEG access will only get worse.

“As incumbents and new entrants apply to operate under these new franchises, more communities will experience the cutbacks and degradation of PEG services reported in this survey, leaving many communities in the nation without the diverse, local programming provided through PEG channels,” the ACM concluded. “This outcome directly contradicts the purpose stated in the Cable Act of 1984, that franchises be responsive to the needs and interests of the local community.”

The survey revealed that about 20 percent of respondents saw decreases in funding for PEG. Meanwhile, 26 percent that had cable drops to libraries and schools – and 41 percent of respondents in communities that had an Institutional Network connecting government facilities, educational institutions and PEG facilities – reported the loss or reduction of those benefits (including communities in CA, CT, FL, GA, IN, MI, MO, NC, OH, TX and WI).

Two-thirds of respondents said that PEG channel signal quality and function has been impaired since state franchise agreements went into effect. 

AT&T was singled out for neglecting its PEG obligations, but some cable companies are behaving little better, according to the ACM.

“It’s important to note that where PEG access has greater protection in the state video franchise laws, AT&T is ignoring requirements to provide PEG at ‘similar’ (CA law) or ‘equivalent’ (IL law) signal quality and functionality as commercial channels,” the ACM said. “This disadvantages, rather than serves, local communities.”

Respondents from 17 communities in eight states reported that PEG facilities had been closed. The ACM stated, “Comcast used state franchise law as the excuse to close all of its PEG facilities in northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan in September of 2007, prior to distribution of this survey.”

As for the supposed benefits of competition, two-thirds of the survey respondents said that video rates have actually gone up since state franchising began.

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• For consumers, state video franchising is backfiring

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